30th anniversary of Handicap International
Embassy of France, December 6, 2012
Monsieur le Directeur général, Cher Dr. Jean-Baptiste Richardier,
Dear John Lancaster, Handicap International Board Secretary,
Cher Patrick Segal,
Nancy Kelly, Chair Handicap International USA,
Beth MacKairn, Director,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you, dear John Lancaster, for your warm words. It is a great pleasure and honor for Irène Serot Alméras and for me to welcome you to the Maison Française this evening to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Handicap International.
I would like to express a very special word of welcome and gratitude to our guest of honor this evening, Dr. Jean-Baptiste Richardier, co-founder of Handicap International.
What you have achieved with Handicap International is a quite extraordinary success story, and it is a source of inspiration and admiration for me – and I believe for all of us.
So as we have gathered here tonight to celebrate Handicap International’s 30th birthday, I want to pay tribute on behalf of France to Dr. Richardier and his wonderful Board and staff.
For thirty years, you have been saving and transforming the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Thirty years of fighting exclusion, poverty and conflict. Thirty years of commitment to the dignity of those who are most in need, including so many children.
On a more personal level, I had the privilege of working a few years ago with Handicap International, when I was working in the French Foreign Ministry. And I am delighted to see Dr. Philippe Chabasse, member of the American Board, with whom I had the great pleasure to work then. It was a truly life-changing experience for me.
Emblematic of your organization’s exemplary work on the battlefield is your presence in Libya, where in the space of a few months, you destroyed an enormous stockpile of leftover explosives – we’re talking about nine tons of weapons and munitions collected from homes, farms, schools and roads in the Misrata region in particular.
Dear Dr. Richardier, as you yourself say, it was a feeling of revulsion over deprivation and horror that led you to create Handicap International. Your great achievement was to establish the importance of advocating for the handicapped in crisis situations. You found inaction intolerable. I mentioned Libya; I could also mention Haiti, Pakistan, Syria and many other places, as the theater of your relentless efforts.
Your fight against anti-personnel mines, banned by the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, is one of your greatest accomplishments. Alas, in 2012, mines and cluster munitions remain a reality in more than 80 countries. One out of every three victims is a child. And I know you continue the fight, more than ever.
You successfully brought Handicap International to the United States, as others have done with their own organizations; I am thinking notably of Médecins du monde, Médecins sans frontières, Action contre la faim and ATD Quart-monde, all of which now have a U.S. presence.
Let us pool our efforts and initiatives. That is precisely the raison d’être of the Embassy’s Mission for Nongovernmental Cooperation led by Irène Serot Alméras: to work together to support projects in France and the United States aimed at helping others, and to showcase French development organizations in the U.S.
France can be proud to have given birth to many of the best known and most respected NGOs, and Handicap International in particular.
I believe it is important to create partnerships among those who are active in philanthropy in both our countries, and among NGOs in particular.
You can count on us to support you in these efforts and to promote bridge-building, when we can, between our two societies.
The Millennium Goals have shown the extent to which poverty in the world, while on the decline, is far from being over. France, as you know, is particularly engaged in discussions and preparatory debates at the UN to define the post-2015 period. And we stand ready to listen to you and to convey your ideas on these major issues.
When I had the privilege of welcoming you to our Residence in April of last year, I told you that my door was always open to you. I say it again today, and these aren’t just words.
Handicap International deserves our deep respect, our sincere admiration and our enthusiastic support. And you have all three, of that you can be sure.
So my warmest thanks to Dr. Richardier and to each and everyone of you./.